There is no better way to encourage healthy eating habits than with an edible garden. There is something beautiful about reaping the delicious benefits that grow from weeks of hard work necessary to maintain a garden. And the best time of the year to start an edible garden is the early summer. Right now!
As kids wrap up the school year, it’s important to keep them engaged in activities that will continue to challenge them mentally. The edible garden is the perfect opportunity to teach lessons on science, team work, exercise, and most importantly, nutrition – all important lessons that will continue to impact a child’s life far past harvest season.
Today we want to concentrate on nutrition, an area where we fall behind as a nation. We all know the perilous consequences that unhealthy eating habits can have on our children. Consequences like disease and obesity. In many instances, children do not know where their foods come from and often fail to correctly identify fruits and vegetables. The prevalence of packaged processed foods often adds to this disconnect with fresh and natural foods. By planting an edible garden with the family, parents plant a seed of curiosity that evolves as the garden grows and becomes the source of healthy family meals.
The easiest way to start a home garden is to plant herbs. Herbs add freshness and intense flavor to foods without adding sodium and fat. They contain many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that can keep disease away now and later in life. Herbs are easy to grow and can thrive in potting containers and window sills. Below is a list of herbs that thrive during the summer months and what makes them so great. (Source: WHFoods.com)
Basil - Basil contains antibacterial properties and helps prevent bacteria growth. It’s also a good source of vitamin C and calcium. Pair with tomato and mozzarella cheese for a great summer salad.
Chives - Chives also contains antibacterial properties and have been known to aid in the fight against cancerous cells. They also contain dietary fiber that aids in digestion. Sprinkle finely minced chives over pasta or potato dishes for a savory and tangy kick!.
Dill - A good source of calcium to help prevent bone loss, dill tastes great with pickles. If you’re lucky enough to grow cucumbers in your edible garden, you’ve got all the ingredients for home-made pickles!
Fennel - Fennel helps protect the immune system with its abundance in vitamin C. An important part of the mediterranean diet, fennel helps reduce high cholesterol levels. It’s great paired with citrus and fresh seafood.
Parsley - More than just a table garnish, parsley is rich in fiber and aids in the digestion of food. It has been discovered to be a great source of folic acid and the perfect weapon to help keep cardiovascular disease away. Use as a garnish in soups or dips and as a green in Tabbouleh!
Sage - The oil in sage is absorbed by the body to reduce inflammation. These oils also act as antioxidants. Sage helps protect against oxidation which is why food companies have experimented with ways in which sage can extend the shelf life of cooking oils. Enjoy with beans or roasted root vegetables.
Thyme - Like many other herbs, thyme has antimicrobial properties. This humble little herb also helps increase the presence of healthy fats around cell membranes. Its strong aroma makes it a perfect addition to egg dishes or creamy sauces.
These herbs will continue to grow throughout the summer and can easily be harvested with a simple trimming. To preserve the herbs and use them in the kitchen, lay them in a single layer on a flat surface and allow them to dry for about a week. Once the leaves are dry, store each herb in an airtight container and use as you would store bought herbs. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle herbs into every meal too add loads of flavor without added sodium!